With the news of Andy Kennedy’s resignation earlier this week, the conversation quickly turned towards Ross Bjork and his second major coaching search in just four months. Ole Miss is moving on from their longest tenured coach since B.L. “Country” Graham in 1962. That Kennedy brought the Rebs their first SEC title of any kind since 1981 just adds to the pressure facing Bjork and Co.
Some dude has been peddling Penny Hardaway’s name to replace Kennedy. What a bum, amirite!? He’s on the right track with NBA presence and name recognition, but I’ve got someone else in mind.
In 2013, Dan Majerle took over for a Grand Canyon program whose best season included a run to the Division-II West Regional third place game. The Antelopes made the transition from to Division-I under new leadership, and Majerle has taken the program from Division-II afterthought to WAC contender after a four year provisional period where the team was ineligible for postseason play.
That’s not all Majerle has done. Before leading taking on a job tougher than a typical rebuild Majerle was an assistant head coach for the Phoenix Suns. He would bring experience at program building, something Andy Kennedy did in Oxford and which Majerle would need to continue if Ole Miss ever wants their job to become a top-tier (or even middle-tier realistically) job in the SEC.
He, too, had quite the NBA career.
Despite all his successes on the bench, Majerle is best known for time on the floor in Phoenix, albeit at a different arena than where the Lopes currently play. He is a member of the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor, and during his time there he was a three-time all-star and twice made the NBA all-defense team. He played with hall-of-famer Charles Barkley and reached the NBA finals in 1993 to a guy named Jordan.
His time in the NBA also produced this gem, which should recruit itself.
Team USA, you say?
Thunder Dan was also a member of the 1994 USA basketball team called the “Dream Team II” that featured Shaquille O’Neal, Dominque Wilkins, and Reggie Miller. Dan, Miller, and Steve Smith were deadly from long-range in the FIBA tournament and the big men down low were just far too powerful for anyone to handle.
Here’s an excerpt from Eddie Maisonet’s column about their destruction:
Let’s be clear about Dream Team II: they kicked everyone’s butt in the World Championships. They won their eight games by an average of 36.5 points and could have easily run the score up even more. No international side had any answer for Shaq, and he came off the bench. Because Nellie loved to push the pace, guys like Mark Price and Kevin Johnson always found the open man, either on the fast break or in half-court situations. Guys like Dan Majerle, Miller and Steve Smith laughed at that puny FIBA 3-point line by launching 25-footers at will. They played Nellie-ball on steroids and it was glorious to watch.
Team USA went 6-0 in their two group stages of the tournament, laying teams from China, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Australia and Puerto Rico to waste. The semifinal game versus Greece was a cakewalk, and a potential rematch between USA and Croatia (featuring NBA standouts Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja) was spoiled by the Russian upset in the other semifinal. In the gold medal game, Team USA made their first 10 shots, with the ever-classy Joe Dumars leading the way by making long threes and pull-up jumpers. It was 42-17 before Nelson finally decided to bring in Shaq.
The final score was 137-91, but it wasn’t even that close. It was as if Dream Team II needed to remind the world that while they were having a ton of fun in Toronto, when it came down to business, they meant business.
His connections in the NBA and name recognition around the league would be something Ole Miss has never had. He has more experience in his final season in the Association than all active Ole Miss players do combined.
Let me repeat that.
HE HAS MORE EXPERIENCE IN HIS FINAL SEASON IN THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATE THAN ALL ACTIVE OLE MISS BASKETBALL PLAYERS DO COMBINED.
He went from D-II to D-1 contender.
When Majerle arrived at the for-profit campus in Phoenix, Grand Canyon had no basketball success to speak of. The program had reached the NCAA tournament the previous season in Division-II but hadn't won a game there since 2007. All he’s done is taken them from 241st in KenPom in year one to 101 in year five. The fact that the program was anything but dead last is a testament to Majerle’s ability to recruit and get players to buy in to his hard-nosed defensive style of play.
His adjusted efficiency rose from 283rd in year 1, dipped to 336th in year two, and since has rocketed upwards to 111th, then 90th, and now 25th as he phased out Division-II players and transfers and inserted his own recruits. He built a program centered around hard-nosed hustle defense led by an elite freshman defender inside.
The Lopes rank 12th in 2-point percentage allowed, and on offense they attack the glass with their length and athleticism. Both of these traits have been sorely lacking in recent seasons in Oxford.
Not for nothing, Grand Canyon also allows teams to shoot 27.2% from beyond the arc, best in the country. Elite defense and guards with sticky fingers (the Lopes are also in the top 20 in turnover rate) would be a welcome sight for Ole Miss fans.
Yeah, he can recruit, too.
Last year, Majerle and his staff pulled off the unthinkable. Four-star shooting guard Tim Finke from Champaign, Illinois chose to sign with the Lopes over the hometown Illini and offers from other programs like Iowa State, Kansas State, Marquette, Missouri, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Southern Cal.
Finke was rated as the No. 4 player in Illinois, the No. 50 shooting guard in the country, and the No. 224 player in the country per 247Sports composite rankings. Now, he wasn’t a top 10 player but the fact that he turned down multiple Power 5 offers from fantastic basketball schools to go play for Grand Canyon is a testament to Majerle’s presence as a coach and as a former NBA player and coach who knows what the hell he is doing.
That is something that Ole Miss has never had. All do respect to Andy, he was never in the NBA and was never on a bench there either. Thunder Dan has been there and can talk the talk after running the footage of him walking the walk.
Until the Rebs can get someone to the NBA to build a presence, they’ll just have to bring the NBA to them. And hiring a former NBA All-Star whose number hangs in the rafters in Arizona would do just that. What more do you want? He has taken a for-profit institution’s basketball program and turned it on its head and made them a contender in a relatively good conference.